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HIS WORKMAN'S COMPENSATION
Mark Kram
March 18, 1968
Joe Frazier believes in giving full measure for what he gets. There were no frills in his performance, but when the bout was over Buster Mathis was flat on his back and Frazier was a champion of sorts
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March 18, 1968

His Workman's Compensation

Joe Frazier believes in giving full measure for what he gets. There were no frills in his performance, but when the bout was over Buster Mathis was flat on his back and Frazier was a champion of sorts

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For one thing, the fight plan for Mathis revealed gaping flaws in judgment. The plan was riveted to the assumption that Mathis could run for 15 rounds. Not even the superbly conditioned Ali, the best trackman in the history of the heavyweights, would consider such folly; certainly Mathis, because of his size and inexperience, should never have. Mathis is no Ali as an orchestrator of his talents, but he did have two good weapons. He had a jab to ease the constant pressure from Frazier, and he had a right uppercut to effectively counter Frazier's crouches. Mathis simply forgot about the jab, and he only used the uppercut sparingly.

The architect of Mathis' ring plan was Joe Fariello, a former student of D'Amato, and he, too, must share the responsibility for his fighter's failure. The trainer is a curious figure in boxing. Some trainers are teachers, others are excellent conditioners and many more are just good con men. The master trainer, practically extinct today, combines all three of these qualities. No man in a camp is closer to the fighter than the trainer. He listens to the fighter's sadness, laughs at his bad jokes, absorbs his flares of temper and always watches to see that the fighter's ego remains balanced.

Fariello's record as a trainer is suspect. He handled Jos´┐Ż Torres for his second fight with Dick Tiger; Torres, jabless and listless, lost. He had a bad experience with Joe Shaw when Shaw was once blatantly fouled and then received no protection from his corner. Mathis obviously liked Fariello personally, but it was just as apparent he had little regard for him professionally. Perhaps with good reason. No trainer eats a loaf of bread in front of a fighter in training, especially one like Mathis who dreams of food constantly. No trainer calls a fighter dumb, particularly a Mathis whose ego is always tottering.

The trainer did his best to bail himself out after the fight. Mathis, he said, "had a false sense of security" after 23 fights with compliant opponents.

The fighter, as always, is the only victim. Mathis is now a perfect advertisement for Black Power advocates. He gets whipped and suddenly he is alone, indeed publicly disgraced by the people he needs desperately. "We're taking Buster's name off the gym, and we're taking his pictures off the wall," says Iselin, who longed to be out in front, to be the manager of record, the spokesman and guide for the future heavyweight champion of the world. But Iselin never even earned his cut. The cardinal rule of the manager is "protect the fighter." This is one of the ways the manager earns his cut. To expose Mathis to ridicule is not only juvenile and unprofessional, it is bad business; Iselin's reaction to defeat only succeeds in depressing the market price for Buster Mathis.

Perhaps Iselin was just despondent over the fact that he is now stuck with all the items (lighters, pens, etc.) he employed to merchandise the name of Big Buster. "Why doesn't he sell them to the people buying up all the Romney buttons?" someone suggested. One thing is certain: Mathis does not want to be near anything with his name on it. He is emotionally stunned by his loss to Frazier. He walks the lonely woods near his camp in upstate New York and then returns to his room. He sits there for long hours, silently thrashing about in a hell that he alone did not make.

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